Moon Hawler

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wallops should embrace space tourism idea

Virginia-educated millionairess, Anousheh Ansari, is set to make history by being lofted into orbit to the International Space Station by a Russian Soyuz rocket to become the first woman commercial tourist astronaut. She will be wearing a spaceflight patch with the motto: "Imagine, Inspire, Be the Change."

Space Adventures Ltd., a Virginia-based commercial space firm, negotiated the contract with the Russian Space Agency. Anasari is a major investor in the commercial space tourism entity, having completed hundreds of millions of dollars of space tourism business around the globe.

Space Adventures has partnered with Ansari's investment firm, Prodea Systems Inc., to contract with the Russian Space Agency to build a fleet of suborbital spacecraft. The spacecraft would enable humans around the world to fly over 100 kilometers into space as tourists beginning in late 2008 at the cost of less than $200,000 with ticket prices expected to fall to $50,000 in the years ahead.

Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures and a University of Virginia engineering graduate, has executed agreements to start construction on commercial tourist spaceports in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore in partnership with those foreign governments.

Commercial human tourist spaceports have been or are in process of bring licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration in Mojave, Calif., Burns Flat, Ok., Upham, N.M., and Sheboygan, Wis. Three spaceport locations are in various stages of development in Texas along with another being developed in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Futon Corp., a Bethesda, Md.-based credentialed aerospace research firm, recently found that the human suborbital space tourism business is expected to be a $1 billion industry by 2020.

Virginia is host to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops. Unlike nearly all the commercial tourist spaceports being touted, it has the launch runways, tracking and telemetry facilities needed to be a part of the human suborbital space tourist business.

Moreover, it is geographically positioned along the East Coast population of the United States. The Accomack County spaceport does need, however, a new and innovative penchant for human suborbital space tourism's entrepreneurial culture.

To get a major piece of the anticipated billion-dollar space tourism business, Virginia government executives and legislators need to focus on incentives to attract Virginia's own Space Adventures to base its East Coast human suborbital launches near Chincoteague. Editors and journalists may elect to ask officials why one of America's oldest spaceports is not yet a significant part of the coming human suborbital space-tourism commercialization.

Double-time effort to correct the benign neglect of Virginia's spaceport should be made. The economic impact and spinoffs in tourist dollars, new business and infrastructure development, high technology workforce recruitment and rekindled interest by K-12 and university students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics may be all that is at stake in the Alternative Space industry.

Jack Kennedy



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